MINNESOTA BULLETIN

Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Web site:
www.nfbmn.org

Tom Scanlan, Editor

E-mailtom.scanlan@earthlink.net

Volume 69, Number 1, Summer 2004

WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND

Table of Contents

Les Affaires

NFB of Minnesota Helps to End BusStrike

Blind Card (Never Leave Home WithoutIt)

Through the Eye of a Needle

My Cuernavaca Study Abroad

Report of the SemiannualConvention

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires
By Joyce Scanlan, President

When I retired as Director of Blindness: Learning inNew Dimensions (BLIND) last October 15, I expected to stay at home, sleepin every morning, tackle housework left undone over the years, and tocatch up on all my unmet social obligations of the previous years. We hadour 2003 Annual Convention in St. Paul two weeks later, so I launchedright into convention planning and setting up an agenda to attract a goodcrowd and help everyone understand that we all had challenging work infront of us. At the convention, if you'll recall, we set up some goalsfor ourselves.

On the following Monday, I went to Faribault to attendthe Resource Center advisory committee. The major problem that day wasthat the Department of Education officials in St. Paul had seen fit to doaway with the advisory committees for the deaf and the blind. JeanMartin, blindness Resource Center Director, needless to say, was upset,because she felt that the advisory committee was helpful to her. At themeeting, everyone, representing various organizations for teachers, theCommunication Center, and BLIND,Inc., agreed to support an effort to reinstate the advisorycommittees. Then at the March 8th advisory committee meeting, memberswere informed that the Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC) hadpassed a motion to reinstate the two committees and to continue the termsof the current members to allow for continuity. The matter seems resolvedas of now.

At the time of our 2003 convention, SSB was in theprocess of searching for a new director. The list of candidates had beenreduced to four people, soon to be further reduced to two finalists, FredWurtzel and Chuk Hamilton. At that point, the United Blind of Minnesota,the American Council of the Blind of Minnesota, the National Federation ofthe Blind of Minnesota, and Shelli Nelson, representing herself, wereasked to submit questions to be asked at the final interviews of these twocandidates. We, NFB of Minnesota, submitted five questions, of which allin some form or other were used. After each of the two interviews held onDecember 4, the three presidents representing advocacy organizations andShelli were asked to offer our views. It was made clear to us that wewere not being allowed to select the winning candidate, but we were beingasked to give our opinions. The four people conducting the interviewswere Bonnie Elsey, Howard Glad, Dennis Yecke, and Wally Hinz, who asked noquestions at all. The most interesting moment of the afternoon was whenthe other three people sitting on the observation panel with me learnedthat both Fred Wurtzel and Chuk Hamilton were members of the NationalFederation of the Blind. They had all, I am sure, in their own mindsexcluded Fred already because he was a known Federationist, beingpresident of our Michigan affiliate. From the quiet groans of surprisefrom the three panelists, it was clear they must have felt caught betweena rock and a hard spot. Bonnie informed everyone that all four of thefinalists were Federationists.

Late on Monday, December 8, the word came out that theselection committee had decided upon Chuk Hamilton as the next SSBdirector. A new era had opened. We knew, though, that our advocacy workand our efforts to oversee our state rehabilitation agency must continueas usual. One point on which we'll all agree is that the SSB Councilmeetings have been much more pleasant since last July 1; one feels humanagain sitting out there in the audience. No more slams from a certainassistant commissioner; no more rude interruptions when we're trying toask a question. It's a different world completely.

Approximately twenty Minnesotans attended the grandopening of the NFB Jernigan Institute on January 30, 2004. We enjoyedtouring the new building, sampling fine food and drink, and presentationsby numerous dignitaries from the area, including our own President MarcMaurer and the new director of the institute, Dr. Betsy Zaborowski.

Most of us remained to take part in the annualWashington Seminar, which took place during Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdayof the following week. We had a good response from the Minnesotacongressional delegation, although we didn't see a live congressman untillate on Tuesday afternoon. Our issues included raising the earnings limitfor SSDI recipients to remove the disincentive for returning to work,amending the Higher Education Act to allow blind college students to maketheir own choices in alternative techniques and services used instead ofrelying upon a custodial disability services office, and amending the FairLabor Standards Act (FSLA) to remove the provision allowing blind peopleto be paid sub-minimum wages. We were also asking certain members ofCongress to help the new research and training institute to find threemillion dollars to assist in the development of the hand-held readingdevice for blind people. Since our trip to Washington, we now have thelanguage for amending the Higher Education Act but lack the individual toserve as chief sponsor. On the FLSA and doing away with the sub-minimumwage waiver for blind people, Tom Latham of Iowa has agreed to introducethe bill. As for the Social Security Earnings Limit bill, HR173 has threeMinnesota cosponsors, Jim Oberstar, Martin Sabo, and Colin Peterson, andnone for S750. The reauthorization bill for Vocational Rehabilitation isstill in limbo. Different bills have passed in each house, and the Senatedemocrats have refused to appoint members to the conference committee. They are refusing to do so because the Republicans in passing other billssuch as the Medicare bill have bamboozled them. The rehab programs havebeen funded through the end of the 2004 fiscal year.

The Federation will participate in a meeting todetermine how that Medicare study should be conducted. If you'llremember, that is the study to determine how rehab services should beprovided to seniors who are blind. Should it be funded through Medicareand who should provide the services? We are sending around a "dearcolleague" letter to those who might help with the $3 million to developthe hand-held reading device.

The year 2004 meant a shorter term for our Minnesotalegislative session. We had our Day at the Capitol on February 17, andmany of our members participated. We took a different approach this yearand zeroed in on the committees that deal with our particular concerns. We were interested in what the transfer of SSB from Economic Security tothe newly-created Department of Employment and Economic Development(DEED) might mean. Due to our experiences of the previousyear or two, we were most concerned about the budget for the state agency. Would we be gouged again with another unfair cut? The top personnel inthe department dealing with SSB remain the same. At this point, we cansee continuing results of our efforts of last year at the legislature bythe fact that Representative Bob Gunther's house committee included a notethat none of the cuts from DEED should come from SSB. Atleast some of these guys have good memories, since the National Federationof the Blind was the only organization in 2003 asking the legislature torestore funds to SSB. We helped SSB in 2003 to receive an increase of$629,000 over what it would otherwise have received. This was due to thework our members, especially Andy Virden and our Central Minnesotamembers, did during last year's legislative sessions and the monthsleading up to it. So this year our friends at the legislature knew betterthan to take more money from our agency. We also expressed concern aboutactions proposed by the governance board of the Minnesota Academy for theBlind. Their ultimate goal, if it is indeed carried out, will mean thatthe Academy for the Blind and the Academy for the Deaf will be under oneadministrator. In fact, this recommendation, which was not supposed to gointo effect until 2006, has actually been implemented already. LindaMitchell, who has been heading up the Academy for the Deaf until last July1, when Elaine Sveen left her position as Superintendent of the Academyfor the Blind to take a job at the Maryland School for the Blind, andafter that Linda became the head of both schools. It all sounds a bitfishy, but nevertheless, Linda Mitchell has been appointed to be theexecutive director over the two academies. Janiece Duffy serves as theFederation's representative on the Academy for the Blind Site Council andhas worked diligently on the issue. At our 2003 annual convention in St.Paul, we had passed a resolution stating our position that the MinnesotaAcademy for the Blind should be autonomous and independent of the otheracademy. This resolution was circulated widely, so there should have beenno mistake about our position. We also proposed a bill be drafted tobring together all programs related to blindness into one department. This bill is being drafted, and we have done nothing further on it.

Many of us have been talking for a long time about howwe need to work harder on building up the membership in our affiliate. There is no question about the fact that the National Federation of theBlind is by far the largest of the three advocacy organizations in thestate; however, we must not be content with that. There are many blindpeople out there who need and want our organization. It's up to us toreach out to them so that they'll have the opportunity to know about usand to be involved in a vibrant, forward-looking organization such as weare. I have been attending chapter meetings over the past months. BothJudy Sanders and I have been attending meetings of a group of blind andinterested sighted people in Duluth who are eager to join ourorganization. I attended the Central Minnesota chapter meeting onFebruary 14, and our state Board held a meeting in conjunction with theCentral Minnesota chapter meeting on March 13. I also attended theRochester chapter meeting on February 23. I plan to come to a Riverbendchapter meeting as soon as Charlene and I can coordinate our schedules. At present, the Riverbend chapter meets on the same day as the Metrochapter meets. We need to work harder to bring in new members. We haveso much to offer blind people, and now that I have nothing to do, I planto get busy and seek out all those fine people. Remember, largest is notgood enough.

I have formed an outreach or marketing or publicrelations committee so that we can let the word out on everything we'redoing. I would like to have at least one person from each chapter on thiscommittee. We are a statewide committee and will be contacting all areasof the entire state to tell everyone what we are doing on behalf of blindMinnesotans.

Those of us who live and work in Minneapolis and St.Paul struggled with the public transit strike in March and April. We werecontacted by the AFL/CIO inviting us to participate in a gathering at thestate mediator's headquarters in St. Paul on March 22. Close to twenty ofus attended and had a chance to speak briefly with some reporters. Thatwas not the type of gathering we would call a rally, but the intent on thepart of the AFL/CIO was that when the negotiators arrived for theirmediation session, they would see a crowd. I think we helped, since wewere the largest group there. Then we received several invitations toparticipate in rallies and meetings. Judy Sanders and Jennifer Dunnamattended a rally at the Government Center in Minneapolis; several of usattended a rally at the University of Minnesota at which Jennifer spoke. Judy Sanders, Tom Scanlan, and I went to a planning meeting at the CentralLabor Building in Minneapolis. We learned of many upcoming rallies. Weall participated in the Wednesday, April 7 campaign to call the governorto tell him how we were affected by the bus strike. He received more than800 calls that day, many of which were from unhappy blind people, who wereupset about the loss of buses. Many of us participated in the rally atthe state Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday, April 10, at which I spoke onbehalf of the Federation. The main focus of my remarks was theinappropriate attitude Governor Pawlenty and Met Council Chair Peter Bellhave toward the bus system. They speak of buses as being for the"disadvantaged" and the riders as "bus-dependent." They seem to regardthe bus system as a charity or welfare program rather than a publicservice. I explained how blind people contribute to the economy of thearea in many ways. Well, after the phone-in campaign and the rally onSaturday, the governor decided to become involved. We made the St. Paulpaper on Sunday morning, and on Monday, the Federation was called bychannel 11 to ask to interview a blind person "who was really hurt by thebus strike." I gave them Jennifer Dunnam's name; she did an interview,which made a brief newsflash played at 5 and 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Abargaining session set for Monday, April 12 turned out to be thelast--although long--session. We certainly welcomed the return of thebuses, so we can once again be independent and free to go wherever we needto without going broke or stretching our friends' tolerance for being usedas drivers. We did our part as Federationists to lend a hand with ralliesand helping to clear up some of the misconceptions about why we like thepublic bus system and helping public officials to recognize the value ofthe transit system as a much-needed public service.

On April 8, Judy Sanders, Tom Scanlan, and I attendedthe annual meeting of the Community Solutions Fund (CSF) of which the NFBof Minnesota is a member. We did this despite the fact that the meetingwas in St. Paul--we're all from Minneapolis--and there were no buses. Community Solutions Fund is adding more organizations to its membership,insisting that more organizations will help to bring in more money. Sofar, it hasn't turned out that way. In case you don't remember, CommunitySolutions Fund is an organization that raises funds for its membersthrough a "gift of choice" payroll-deduction program. The Federation hasbelonged to CSF since that organization was founded back in the '70's.

The NFB of Minnesota has revived our state scholarshipprogram in 2004. Sheila Koenig is the chair. Information about the$1,000 scholarship has been sent out to appropriate places, and manyapplications were received by the due date of June 30. Five applicantsfrom Minnesota were interviewed for the national scholarship program,although none won a scholarship this year.

Our fall convention for 2004 will take place in St.Cloud on October 22, 23, and 24 with our Central Minnesota chapterhosting. We have sleeping rooms reserved at the Kelly Inn with our Fridayafternoon and Saturday sessions taking place at the near-by Civic Center;the Sunday morning session will take place at the Kelly Inn itself. Thismay seem complicated, but I believe the food costs may be good, althoughwe will pay more for the meeting rooms at the Civic Center. PresidentMaurer will be our national representative that weekend. We should alllook forward to a most exciting and energizing fall convention. We alwayshave fun in St. Cloud.

[Back to top

NFB of Minnesota Helps to End BusStrike
By Joyce Scanlan, President

Between March 4 and April 19 of this year, Minneapolisand St. Paul residents were plagued by a strike of our Metro Transitsystem. The suburban system remained intact, and the paratransit programfor those who cannot use the mainline buses continued to operate as usual. However, those of us who live within the two cities had to take cabs, findrides, or walk to get anywhere. Since we all live active lives and keep abusy schedule, we couldn't be satisfied staying home. In fact, most of ushave jobs and had to find alternative transportation to keep from losingthose jobs. Carpools are great when they work, but when one is accustomedto the independence of taking the public bus, rides work only temporarily,and after six weeks, those rides were beginning to break down. Besides,we're Federationists, and here was a real need to speak our minds and lendour voices to bring back a much-needed service.

So Federationists in the Metro area rallied to thecause as soon as possible. We all pay heed to the news, and we were allvery aware of the governor's and the Metropolitan Council chairman's viewsconcerning the local transit system. Neither Governor Tim Pawlenty norMetropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell, the principal officialsresponsible for the management of the transit system, has been a strongadvocate of a metropolitan bus system. Neither has been known to ride abus at all, and the strike came about because of their lack of effort toresolve issues of concern to bus drivers, which ultimately led to thestrike in the first place. Throughout the strike, we heard statements fromthe governor's office and from Peter Bell clearly indicating that they hadlittle interest in resolving the strike. In fact, they expressed theirgreater interest in the fact that the strike was saving taxpayers'dollars. Therefore, Federationists felt an urgent need to speak out onbehalf of blind people. We had been through bus strikes in the past, butthis one clearly demanded our involvement. We definitely sensed thethreat that this strike could mean the end of a much-valued transit systemin our community.

Federationists played an active role in attendingmeetings and rallies designed to end the strike. Because we are citizenswith a wide range of political views and it would not have been helpful totake a position either on the side of the labor union or the metro transitmanagement, we felt compelled to take action to settle the strike as soonas possible. We did not become involved in the discussion of the issuesthat had caused the strike. Our theme was "Settle this strike as soon aspossible and bring back the buses." We were there to greet theparticipants when labor and management met for the first time to try tosettle the strike. We attended rallies in downtown Minneapolis and at theUniversity of Minnesota. Our vice president and Metro chapter president,Jennifer Dunnam, spoke at the University rally. Federationists were at alegislative hearing and two of us were asked to give testimony about theeffects of the bus strike on blind people in the area. Judy Sanders spokeon behalf of blind seniors who ride the bus, and I spoke on behalf of allblind people who have always been proud of our efficient metro bus system. We made numerous calls to Governor Pawlenty and to Metro Council ChairPeter Bell. It was reported that on April 7, the governor's officereceived over eight hundred calls with concerns about settling the strike. We wrote letters calling upon those officials to end the strike.

On April 10, at a rally at the state capitol, I gavethe following testimony:

"We have come to our state capitol today to call uponGovernor Tim Pawlenty and Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell to takeinitiative to end this bus strike, which has gone on now for thirty-eightdays. I speak on behalf of the thousands of blind people and others, whouse the mainline bus system on a regular basis to carry out theresponsibilities of our daily lives.

"Through our work as members of the NationalFederation of the Blind, we have learned a philosophy of self-respect andhigh expectations for ourselves as first-class citizens of the community. Quite frankly, Governor Pawlenty and Chairman Bell, blind people do notappreciate your attitude toward bus riders when you use such terms as'disadvantaged' or 'transit-dependent,' which smack of a welfare mentalityand a belief that public transit is some sort of charity, rather than apublic service. This bus strike would have been over by now if you twopeople had a healthier understanding of the role the bus system plays inthe lives of the citizens you were put in office to serve.

"As bus riders, we are still first-class participantsin this community. We have jobs; we indeed pay taxes; we spend our moneyin the stores around town; we pay full fare for our bus rides; we ask forbuses as a public service available to all residents of a community ofthis size. In all ways, we share in the financial participation and thefull support of this community. We, too, contribute to the total economyof this area.

"The citizens of a metropolitan area the size ofMinneapolis and St. Paul need and deserve a full transit system to thriveand flourish. This strike must be settled very soon before the entirefabric of this metro area is destroyed.

"And remember, Governor Pawlenty and Chairman Bell,because all of us will most certainly remember, that it all happened onyour watch. So, get a little attitudinal adjustment and resolve thisstrike. You know, I may be blind and lack physical eyesight; but you twogentlemen, who are responsible for ending this strike and bringing backour buses, lack vision to recognize the high priority buses have in thelife of the community you serve."

My comments at the rally were extensively quoted inthe St. Paul paper the following day. No one questioned where theFederation stood regarding the bus strike. We longed to see our busesback on the streets ASAP. On Monday, April 12, channel 11 called ouroffice to ask to interview someone "who is really affected by the busstrike." I referred the caller to Jennifer Dunnam, who was interviewed,and her piece was broadcast on Tuesday at 5 and 6 p.m.

In the meantime, the governor had decided that it waswise to become involved in the negotiations with the drivers' union, andafter a very long meeting, a settlement was reached. The strike ended,and the buses came back early on the morning of Monday, April 19.

We felt that Federationists really played asignificant role in making the case for bringing back our buses. Tocelebrate the Grand Return of this public transit system, we arranged tomeet at a key bus stop to carry signs--they were acceptably small enoughto take on the bus--and to sing a special song as we traveled to the GreenMill on 27th and Hennepin to have a festive dinner in honor of theoccasion.

We sang our song at the Green Mill, as well as on thebus. Here are the words to the song (sung to the tune of the "Armour HotDog" jingle":

Buses, Metro buses,
What kind of folks ride Metro buses?
Blind folks, sighted folks,
Folks who eat out well;
Senior folks, young folks;
All but the gov and Peter Bell
Ride buses, Metro buses.
We're glad you're back on the job!!!

It was a very happy crowd that evening at theGreen Mill.

Now that our buses are back, we can also reclaim ourfull independence to get about. We know that if or when another strikeoccurs, we'll know exactly what to do--get involved and do all we can tohelp public officials recognize the value of the public transit system inthis community. It seems sad that today's elected officials have solittle interest in having a viable public transportation system. Iremember how long ago I ran into Republican State Senator George Pillsburyriding to and from the state capitol in St. Paul. Certainly with the nameof Pillsbury, he could have well afforded an automobile, or two, or three. One day I must have expressed surprise at his choice of the public bus ashis mode of transportation. He replied that as gas prices continue torise, "more and more people are going to be giving up their cars to ridethese buses." Well, gas prices have greatly increased, but more and morepublic officials, it seems, go right on driving their automobiles. Atleast, if one were to judge by comments made by Governor Pawlenty andChairman Peter Bell, the bus system is for those "disadvantaged" peoplewho can't afford a car or are welfare recipients. We need more GeorgePillsburys, who can well afford to drive a car but choose to ride the bus.

On Saturday, August 7, the transit workers and thosewho helped to bring about the strike settlement celebrated at a pig roastin Minneapolis. Federationists are proud to have received a specialinvitation to join the festivities.

Many people move to Minneapolis and St. Paul to enjoythe quality of life here. We, who live here, have always been proud ofour public transportation system. Blind people have ridden mainlinetransit since public transportation came on the scene. Old timersremember the streetcars and the day the first buses came to the streets in1954. Federationists will long remember the Bus Strike of 2004 and of allthat we did with others to bring buses back on our streets. We can bevery proud that once again we learned a valuable lesson in what it meansto join with others in our community to keep buses in service.

Blind Card (Never Leave Home WithoutIt)
By Brandon Ball

So many times I've heard the term "NFB philosophy" andthe stories of all the people who have helped fight for the rights ofblind people everywhere. But for a long time, these things didn't meananything to me. It wasn't that I didn't care, but I thought those storieswere out of date and things like discrimination against the blind were athing of the past. Then reality pulled the rug out from under my feet.

When my friends and I were in Atlanta for the NFBNational Convention, Mike Sahyun, Zach Ellingson, and I decided to go outto the Six Flags over Georgia amusement park and ride some rollercoasters. We had no idea how such a simple thing could end up being socomplicated. We purchased our tickets and joked and laughed as we stoodin line. Upon entering the park, we were asked, "What's up with thesticks, guys?" Zach, our travel instructor atBlindness: Learning in New Dimensions(BLIND), Inc., replied, "These are our canes. We need them to getaround." The guard then told us, "Okay, go ahead." We thanked him andproceeded into the park. Then, about twenty feet from the gate, anothersecurity guard approached us. He told us we needed to come back to thegate. With puzzled looks, we asked him why. He told us we could not goin the park with those "sticks." I tried to explain to him that canes arenot "sticks," but before I could finish my sentence, he yelled and told ushe had a job to do. Without a word, we followed him to the gate.

At the time I was thinking, "This has to be a joke. There is no way this can really be happening." It felt like a dream. When we got back to the gate, we were told we would have to leave ourcanes there. The dream was turning into a nightmare. Once again, wetried to explain that we use our canes as tools of navigation. He told usthey looked like weapons. We replied once again that they were our toolsof navigation, and not weapons to harm people. Over and over, we tried toexplain this. They wouldn't budge. We couldn't get them to understand,but we certainly were not going to give up our canes.

When the guards finally realized that we just weren'tgoing to give up our canes, one of the security guards came up with whathe must have thought was a stroke of genius. "Where's your blind card?" "What?" I replied. "Blind card. It proves you're blind." I laughed tomyself. This had to be the funniest thing I've ever heard. "There's nosuch thing," I told him. "Yes, there is. It's a plastic card that saysyou're blind," he said. I felt like saying, "I never leave home withoutit," but decided the humor would be lost on this gentleman. Instead, Itold him what he was asking for could only be found through medicalrecords, and I don't keep those on me. He said he keeps his medicalrecords on him at all times and asked me if I would like to see them.Hoping he would take the hint I told him, "No, it's none of my businessand you have no legal reason to show them to me."

By this time, they had about five aggravated guardsaround us, and the crowd of spectators was growing. Just as it seemedthings couldn't get worse, they told us we would have to stay at the gateswith security until a manager could come and talk to us. After all we hadsaid; they detained us. Looking back on it now, I realize how fortunate Iwas to be there with Mike and Zach. We kept each other's spirits up andvoices calm. After fifteen minutes, we asked if the manager was on hisway. They told us he would be there in about five minutes. As we waited,we talked amongst ourselves. The crowd stared and whispered. Afteranother twenty minutes, we asked if the manager was there yet. They toldus once again, "No, he'll be here in five minutes." We started gettingthe feeling they were playing the waiting game with us. After aboutanother half hour, we finally spoke to the man we were waiting for. Hebrought out paramedics to try to determine if we were blind. He thenasked us if he could give us a sighted guide so we could leave our canesat the gate. We told him no. He then told us he didn't want us to havethe canes because we might hit people's legs by accident with them, and itcould start a fight. Zach then gave the gentleman his very first travelclass. He instructed him and showed him how a blind person would only tapanother person's ankle. After that, he made us give our solemn word thatwe would not use our canes as weapons. He then said that after 9/11, youcould never be too careful because terrorists are everywhere. I replied,"We're not terrorists." He said, "Are you sure you want to go into thepark? The road is not level, and you could fall." We then replied,"We'll be fine." I couldn't believe that after all of the waiting we haddone, he was still trying to talk us out of going into the park.

By this time, our attitudes were not so upbeat, andthe weather had started getting bad. We tried to make the most out of theday, but I felt so defeated. I wondered if I was wrong to oppose theirviews of what the blind could and could not do. While walking through thepark, we were followed by security guards. Just when it seemed like ourdarkest hour, it started to rain. We then knew the day was shot.

After we came back to the hotel, we spoke to ourfellow Federationists about what had happened. The support andunderstanding they gave us made me feel at home. I'll never forget howsecure I felt around them. Their support reassured me that we had donethe right thing in standing up for our right to keep our canes. The nextday we spoke to Peggy Elliott (or as I like to call her, PeggyGive-them-hell Elliott). She went out to Six Flags and had a nice littlechat with the park management, after which they seemed to see the error oftheir ways. The park gave us free passes and issued a letter of apology.

Looking back now though, what happened to us at SixFlags was necessary to show me the real value of public education andcollective action. I once said to a friend, "Why should I have to wastemy time educating others?" and now I know why. The hour I spent at SixFlags being interrogated was worth more to me than a full day of rides. Ilearned that discrimination is real and really does happen, but when itdoes I don't have to deal with it alone. I have all kinds of friends inthe National Federation of the Blind who have my back, just like I've gottheirs. I also realized that there have been a lot of blind people whohave stood up to discrimination over the years and because of them, theway is now easier for me. I hope that because of our actions, someoneelse won't have to deal with the same situation-if that happens, I willhave given back some of what has been given to me. So there are a lot ofpeople I would like to thank. Mike Sahyun, Zach Ellingson, Dick Davis,Peggy Elliott, Shawn Mayo, Joyce Scanlan, President Maurerr, all thepeople in Public Relations in the Federation, and all my brothers andsisters in the NFB. Without you, the philosophy of the NFB would notstand strong. Thank you all for standing by us.

Through the Eye of a Needle
A Parent's Perspective on the Proper Value ofAlternative
Techniques and The Oftentimes Improper ValuePlaced on Vision

By Carrie Gilmer, Vice President, MinnesotaParents of Blind Children

(Author's Note: To say that vision is over-valued willto some, no doubt, lead to the idea that I diminish its value or thesignificance of not having it. To them I say: I believe vision, like allthe other senses, is a great gift from God--but, like all the othersenses, it has its own dimension of knowing the world. Its dimensionincludes pleasure and pain, beauty and ugliness, reality and illusion,reliability and unreliability. I view it as equally valuable to the othersenses; not more or less so. If you hold the view that a loss of visionmeans an inferior life to being sighted, I believe your life (or the ideayou hold about blind peoples' lives) is probably inferior because youeither spend your days feeling sorry for yourself (or the blind)BELIEVING you (they) are missing out or you (they) may be missing outbecause you (they) have not been given training and opportunity. You havebeen TAUGHT that missing out and waiting around for sighted assistance iswhat you (they) must accept. I believe the truth is that you (they) arenot actually missing out because of your (their) blindness.)

It has been five years since Judy Sanders introducedme, and my son Jordan, to the National Federation of the Blind. I've comea long way in my understanding of blindness since then.

I recall at my first convention in Atlanta seeinghundreds of blind people streaming through the lobby, the meeting rooms,and the restaurants. Except for the canes and Braille, I noticed nodifference in the human activity you would expect to find at a conference. This had a profoundly positive impact on my son and me.

However, two specific incidents of another kind had aprofound impact as well. Once, while Jordan and I were waiting for anelevator at the hotel, a young blind woman was in a complete panic overnot finding the elevator buttons. She was completely unglued, crying, andliterally screaming at an employee for help. I was totally unnerved bythe scene. Then, later while attending some parent workshops, I noticed acouple with a daughter seemingly about eight or nine years old. They werepushing her around in an umbrella stroller. She was way too big for it,and it was a very curious sight. I thought there must be something wrongwith her legs. Then we ended up in front of a restaurant at the same timeas this girl and her parents. While we chatted, the girl got up andstarted running in a small circle around her parents! I suddenly realizedthey had her in the stroller because she was blind and the stroller wasconvenient!

Which was true for most blind people, I wondered, thenormalcy of the majority or the two who seemed to fit the scary andstereotypical ideas about blindness? And what had made the difference? Ever since then, I have determined to do all I can to ensure that my ownson be a part of the normally functioning majority I saw that day. I alsowanted to be a part of ensuring every blind person had the sameopportunity. I knew I wanted to be a part of changing what it means to beblind. But I was also aware that I had almost no understanding of what itdid mean to be blind.

One of the first things I learned was that it wasproper to use the term "blind" for Jordan. A noteworthy thing about ourworld is that while Jordan is about ninety-five percent blind, most peopletend to identify him as partially sighted, or as visual--but impaired. When I do use the word blind, people seem to be more comfortable that Imight only use the word blind because I legally can--as in "legallyblind"--not that I mean he actually is. Really, I use the word blindbecause he is blind. Ninety-five percent of his functioning is throughhis other senses and assimilating them with his intellect. He'sblind--and there's nothing weird, or wrong, or shameful, or evennecessarily tragic about it. What IS weird and wrong and shameful andtragic is that lots of people, blind people included, believe that the onesense blind people lack is THE KEY to an independent and fulfilled life. What is wrong and shameful is believing that blind equals no can do or, ifby some superhuman effort they can, the method to get there is cumbersomeand difficult. It is so cumbersome and difficult that it not only requiressuperhuman effort but success elicits rave reviews and admiration thatinspires regular people to rise up and meet their own difficulties. Yes,it is believed, the effort required for non-visual techniques is Olympianand the method is a poor substitute at best. The message is: if you haveANY vision at all, do all that you can to use it even if THAT truly iscumbersome and difficult--some is better than none.

It seems these alternative techniques of blindness areso inferior and cumbersome that if you have any vision at all you findother people encouraging you to get by as best you can. And they are sorelieved WHEN you can! I notice this relief all the time. Often, whenmeeting Jordan, people see his white cane or hear the word blind andimmediately start to express concern of some kind. When they notice thathe can see them, they show visible and audible relief and then go to theother extreme and want to alter very little for him. Coaches,Sunday-school teachers, classroom teachers, strangers, and evenprofessionals in the blindness field often express great relief thatJordan has some vision. Mostly I guess it's because they can't imaginewhat they would do if he were "really blind"; that would take a lot ofthought and energy. Then I often find myself explaining that he could dothe same thing without any vision at all. People almost always think hehas much more vision than he actually does. He is almost always deniedtactile experiences, good descriptions, or non-visual techniques becausepeople think he can see enough to get by. I also often have to tellpeople that they are mistaken; he isn't recognizing them by vision alone. People are always telling me how well he does, and they think it isbecause he has some vision. A big concern of mine is that Jordan wouldalso believe that he does well ONLY because he has some vision.

This high value on the necessity of having vision to"do well" in life can sneak into your thinking so quietly. It ispervasive in all of human history and it even seems natural for themajority of sighted people to think vision is best. But the truth is,most people don't really sit down with reason and think it through; theyassume sight is best. This isn't really surprising, and it isn't reallytoo hard to take from people who have virtually no experience withblindness. And often I find these people are open to learn and to beginthinking about it. But it is very hard to take, and wrong to accept, frompeople who are supposed to be professionals in the field of blindness. And it is very hard to meet a blind person who has accepted dependency astheir lot in life. These people, above all, must be taught that blindpeople are not unfortunate due to blindness. They are merely uninformed. With training and opportunity, they have the same power as any human beingto make their own fortune.

I found it takes real vigilance to keep Jordan, andour whole family, from over-valuing vision and undervaluing alternativetechniques. False ideas and new circumstances are coming into our livesall the time. Things we hadn't thought of come up. And then people wantJordan to just get by or they make the alternative technique seem socumbersome and difficult that it isn't welcomed as an option. I havefound that people will GLADLY throw money, resources, creative thought,and time at low-vision techniques. But they grumble that blindnesstechniques cost money, consume resources, require creative thought, anduse up time!

For several years now it's been important to me thatJordan learns when he is just getting by and not to accept that forhimself. He needs to know that blindness techniques are often simpleadjustments or simple methods or simple tools that get you to the sameplace at the same time with the same amount of pleasure and sense ofaccomplishment as your sighted peers. I believe the only way he can learnthis is by giving him all the options with encouragement and letting himwork out what is most desirable, comfortable, SAFE, and efficient forwhatever task or pleasure.

We had a very good lesson on all of this recently. Often when something goes wrong, you learn the most. In trying to get athread through the eye of a needle, Jordan learned a lesson on the problemof over-valuing vision, undervaluing alternative techniques, and on whatto do to get what you really need and prefer to get the job done. Jordansewed a perfect pair of Sponge Bob boxer shorts in a class at school thisyear, and he has given me permission to share the history of the infamousSponge Bob shorts.

It all began on a beautiful winter day at an IEPassessment meeting. While waiting for all to arrive, the blindness-skillsteacher, the orientation-and-mobility instructor and I were chatting. Anupcoming item was Jordan's new class that term, in which he would sew theshorts. The two blindness educators had a common concern that theydiscussed; both of their mothers had lost significant vision and werehaving trouble continuing to sew. They discussed low-vision aids as ifthey were the only options to try. They have each been blindnesseducators for a good twenty years. They didn't have good solutions fortheir own mothers.

Soon we got into the IEP assessment stuff. When wegot to the orientation-and-mobility teacher, she excitedly announced thedistrict had purchased a Geordi. She knew Jordan had tried one once and(including because of the Geordi name) he really liked it.

A Geordi is like a CCTV video camera that you wear onyour head like a binocular visor. You are not supposed to use it whilewalking. It isn't physically comfortable for long. It has limited usefor a limited blind population. While it may enhance one field of view,it restricts another. It is another contraption to carry and anotherbattery to charge. And of course, what to do when the battery runs downor it isn't comfortable. I am sure it wasn't meant for crossing thestreet. The advertisement on the Web states that you can see T.V. or yourloved ones' faces again. They fail to state that if you can't already seethese things either up very closely or with magnification the Geordi can'thelp you at all. It is a wholly unnecessary purchase. It costs just overthree THOUSAND dollars, with shipping and the stand for it. It is evenfun for sighted people to try.

The instructor couldn't wait to use it. She went onto excitedly explain how well Jordan could see.

I felt this was way off track for assessing Jordan'sreal needs and goals for future independence, but I was sort of thrown byall this excitement about his vision. I interrupted and said I wasshocked that the district had spent money on this. Jordan liked to usehis vision, but he wasn't so desperate to use it. He was comfortablebeing blind. I tried to articulate that he realized the need to learnalternative blindness techniques and reasonable low-vision techniques thatworked well, but he wasn't willing to give up comfort and efficiency justso he could see. It didn't come out very well. The rest of the meetingfelt tense and, at the end, the blindness-skills teacher reminded me tobuy high-contrast fabric and thread for the upcoming shorts.

I was speechless, but just for a moment. So this isit? For the rest of his life, if he wants to sew, he must usehigh-contrast fabric and thread? No, we would not be buyinghigh-contrast. We were looking for a Sponge Bob theme with blendablethread to match. I told her I knew blind people sewed every day usingalternative techniques. I told her that I expected that Jordan would usethose techniques. I would talk to Betty Bishman, the home-managementteacher at Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND), forsome ideas she uses to teach blind people to sew.

Betty gave me a tape measure with tactile markings forJordan to use. He was thrilled with it. Betty was happy to teach me, butI know so little about sewing that what Betty told me might as well havebeen in Martian. I suggested Betty and the blindness-skills teacher talk. They both agreed. I was happy. I offered to buy the threader andmagnetic guides that Betty had suggested. "No problem," theblindness-skills teacher said, "I'll get those things."

Jordan was excited. All was well, and theblindness-skills teacher would come to class and show Jordan and theclassroom teacher the blindness techniques. Equipment cost: less than tenbucks. I was happy. The sewing went forward. Jordan kept saying all waswell, so I didn't press for details. Soon the shorts were nearingcompletion. Then the big day arrived. The Sponge Bob shorts were cominghome, and he had gotten an A on them. I could hardly wait to seethem, and he could hardly wait to wear them.

I inspected the shorts carefully. He had done a greatjob. As I was turning them inside out and inspecting all the seams andpouring out the compliments, I noticed something that made me feel sick. Bold green marker had been hastily drawn around the waistband seams. Ascalmly as I could, I asked Jordan about the marker. The classroom teacherhad done it. It was a tough moment; I didn't want to wreck the excitementor lessen the accomplishment, but I wanted to understand what hadhappened. Jordan is a very positive person. He wanted to enjoy theshorts, but he was also obviously let down. "I don't know why I never gotthe magnetic guides. The teacher had duct tape down, and I couldn't feelit through the material so she drew the line." Then he perked way up andsmiled, held up the shorts proudly and said, "It worked!" I let it go forthen, and determined to talk to the blindness-skills teacher when I hadcalmed down. It took me several weeks.

When the blindness-skills teacher called me at workone day to discuss a malfunctioning BrailleNote, I decided to inquireabout the shorts. I mentioned the green marker and said I was upset thathe had learned a dependent step when there was an easy independent stepavailable. What had happened? Her response was this, "Well, you knowCarrie, Jordan likes to use his vision." Again I was speechless, but onlyfor a second. Then it all rushed out. "What does that have to do with it? Of course he likes to use his vision. But some times it's like a badhabit and we are talking about someone who has a ninety-five percentvision loss! It can be unreliable and even dangerous to use his vision! What's he going to do in the kitchen? Stick his face down in the fryingpan? What's he going to do in industrial arts? Stick his face down tothe saw? He needs the alternative techniques for independence AND safety,and he needs to start practicing them so he can believe in them." Sheresponded, "Well, I can't be there every day."

She added that she would keep all this in mind forindustrial arts. Recall the thousands spent on the Geordi? She didn'tthink it was necessary for Jordan's industrial-arts teacher to consultwith Dick Davis (the industrial-arts instructor at BLIND),EVEN IF IT WAS FREE. I went ahead and talked to Jordan's industrial-artsteacher on my own. On his own, he came down to BLIND soonafterward and learned some alternative techniques from Dick. The teacherfound Dick to be an extremely useful resource. The teacher had had noidea what to do with a blind student in shop.

I have worked for BLIND for more than twoyears. That I personally know of, only three public school blindnesseducators (in the entire state) have used Betty, Dick, or otherBLIND instructors as a resource. Our phone should be ringingoff the wall. Often it seems we want to build a bridge, and they want tokeep up the wall. When that happens, we have to go on ahead of them anddo the right thing.

I decided to go through the whole history of theshorts with Jordan and discuss how he had accomplished each step. Istarted by asking him how it went threading the needle. He stated that henever did. He always had the classroom teacher do it for him. "What doyou mean," I asked. "What happened to the threader?" He was afraid thethreader would take too long and would cause him to get behind, so heasked the teacher to do it for him. I was confused. He said he had onlygotten the wire-loop threader, which was hard to use. I said I thought hehad practiced that type of threader in Braille class, and even though itwasn't the easiest, he had succeeded. Yes he said, he had done it, but ittook six or seven times, and the Braille teacher had told him it would beVERY DIFFICULT and SLOW. Again he said, "I don't know why I never got theguides." Then I asked how he was able to see what he was doing in orderto follow the green marker line. He answered that he had sewed the shortswith his FOREHEAD PRESSED AGAINST THE SEWING MACHINE the whole time. "Didyou like that?" I asked. "No," he answered, "it was very uncomfortable." In talking about the threader, I asked him how good a player he was thefirst weeks of learning the trombone. "I was terrible," he said. I askedhim, "What kind of player would you be now if, after just beginning, youhanded your trombone to the teacher and said, 'Here, you play it for me.'" He understood the point.

Then, I suddenly realized that when the Brailleteacher had said, "Jordan LIKES to use his vision," she didn't merely meanhe enjoys it. She had the idea that he PREFERS to use his vision nomatter what.

In the same conversation, I asked Jordan what hethought his vision was useful for. He shocked me by saying, "Crossing thestreet." I told him that this was a dangerous idea and pointed outsomething that had occurred only the day before on an outing to Como Zoo. It was a busy early spring day, and we had parked on the street. Carswere lined end-to-end up and down both sides of the road. We were parkedonly a few cars away from a ninety-degree turn in the road, so I couldn'tsee far to tell when a car was coming. It was a foolish place to crossfor anyone, but I thought I could rely on my vision, grab the kids' handsand run quick. I shouted, "Let's go!" and Jordan immediately yelled,"Wait!" Sure enough, a second later a pickup truck came right around thecorner. I told him I didn't think he was using vision as much as hethought, and that he was the one who had kept us safe that day because hewas focused on sound and safety.

It made me furious to think that Jordan has had eightyears of orientation-and-mobility training from the school district, andhere he sat with this dangerous idea in his head. The fact that he cannotrely on his vision seems the most basic premise for his need fororientation-and-mobility training. It's great that the instructor atschool has been teaching him address systems, but what good is that if hecan't cross the street safely?

The orientation-and-mobility instructor who was allexcited about Jordan's vision had done the usual perfect conditiontesting. Yes, he can read a sign that stands out in good light with goodcontrast and large letters when he is standing still. In assessments, whydon't they seem to understand the difference between a controlledenvironment and real life? To Jordan's 20/800 vision add: poorer incentral, total blind spots in peripheral, a total nasal field cut, somecolor blindness, dim light problems, and tracking movement problems. Hecan't see into cars or see what the driver is about to do. He couldeasily not see a bike approaching, and he can't always see the trafficsignals. And then add real traffic? Forget it. Unreliable vision likeJordan's can be slightly embarrassing, like hugging the wrong teenage girl(who he thought was his eighteen-year-old sister) or it can be seriouslydangerous as in believing you can use it to cross the street. Thelimitations of his vision should have been drilled into his head. Whydoesn't he KNOW that? Are we all so glad for what he can see that wedon't want to be reminding him of what he can't, even if that leads to abelief that his vision is more useful than it is? The truth is that itisn't his blindness that really limits him, but trying to get by on hislimited vision definitely does.

Last summer at Buddy Camp I asked the Buddies, "Whatdo you think is the most important sense?" There was silence and tension. Then two of the six said they thought sight is the most important sense,one said hearing was the most important, and three said they didn't know. I told them their MOST important sense was COMMON sense. They allchuckled with relief. Did the two who said "sight" say so because theybelieved it? Or did they fear it was right? Did the one who said hearinghope so because it seemed the most important to him/her? We have to makesure, over and over, that our kids do not believe their life and the waythey perceive the world and go about their business is second rate. It isup to us to teach our children and to keep aware of what ideas they areconsuming.

It seems we often have to double or triple check thatthey are getting what they need. I don't mean getting the most expensive,top-of-the-line technology, but getting the best technique to equalaccess. The blindness educators always lead me to believe thesetechniques are their responsibility and their profession. Yet again andagain, when a job doesn't get done and when I question it, they seem toeither respond that it wasn't their job after all or, more often, thetechnique I expected was deemed unnecessary. They discovered that he wasable to get by without special techniques. It's maddening, and then theywonder why I don't trust them, or why I might be upset.

The blindness-skills teacher who got it wrong in thesewing and industrial arts has, to be fair, gotten some things right. Herattitude about Braille is very good. She used NFB literature to teachJordan about readers and she purchased a click-rule after learning of itlast year. She has been good at encouraging self-advocacy. She believesin students learning to order their own materials. She's a good person;she sincerely cares about Jordan, and wants him to succeed. But I askyou, is this all I should expect?

In the end, I've concluded that she's ninety-fivepercent Braille teacher, and is only a few steps ahead of Jordan in usingtechnology. She seems unprepared for, unpracticed in, and underestimatesthe value of alternative techniques in science, industrial arts, finearts, or home economics. Yet the school offers these and even requiresthem of all students at a basic level.

Jordan's right to a free and appropriate education isviolated when he is left to just get by and is denied alternativetechniques. The regular classroom teachers are wholly unprepared andoften so too are we parents. Often all of us seem to be making it up aswe go along. It is very scary from a parent's perspective to rely onprofessionals who are making or taking it up along the way.

It is again clear that standards in blindnesstechniques are desperately needed for public-school teachers and parents. Also, acknowledgement, endorsement, and promotion are all differentthings. These techniques need to be taught by people who promote them asviable and equal.

It seems for now it is easier for a blind person tothread a needle than it is for people to believe he can. I am sighted;the way I thread a needle is important and useful to me. My son is blind;the way he threads a needle is important and useful to him. He has aright to that opportunity. I thank God for the NFB and BLINDevery day. Our voices must become evermore prominent. We must be heard. We will be heard.

My Cuernavaca Study Abroad
By Jessie Wang

(Editor's Note: Jessie is a member of our Metrochapter and participated in the Life 101 program for college-boundstudents at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND).

I am a senior at the University of Minnesota, and Ihave always wanted to do a study-abroad program since my freshmen year. Idid not do it until this past winter break, since one of the obstaclesthat prevented me from participating in a study-abroad program is the factthat I am blind. Because I knew my time as an undergraduate is coming toan end, I finally decided to do it and not to worry about it. I did notdisappoint myself this time and I successfully achieved my goal.

During the 2003-04 winter break, I participated in theCuernavaca, Mexico language and cultural program. I picked this programbecause I wanted to improve my Spanish, and the length of the program alsofit my schedule. Although it was only a three-week program, I learned alot of things about the culture and improved my Spanish at the same time. Before departure I was very nervous about everything, such as how I wouldget around in the airport, how I would meet up with my group, etc. Notuntil I arrived at the airport, did I realize that it was not necessary toworry about some of these concerns.

People in Mexico are very nice. I realized if yourSpanish is at a level where you can ask for help, the people who work atthe airport are very willing to help if you ever get separated from yourgroup. The other thing you can do is make a new friend on the airplane. In fact, this is exactly what I did. I didn't fly to Mexico with thegroup flight, so I sat by a very nice lady and she helped me after I gotoff the plane. I then realized that I would have to wait in the airportfor a couple of hours before I could meet the group. I was nervous againbecause I was not sure where to go to meet other students, but the personwho had helped me called my host family and found out where I needed to bein order to meet up with the other students.

Another thing I want to mention is not to let the factthat it is very dangerous in Mexico stop you from participating in such aprogram. When you are at the airport, just be conscious of what is goingon around you and pay attention to who sits next to you. From what Iexperienced at the airport, it was not as bad as it had been describedduring the program orientation. Once we arrived in the city where theschool was located, I finally was able to relax and get used to my newhome. Since we arrived in the city very late, I did not get a chance toexplore the area then.

If the issue of accommodation has stopped you fromparticipating in a study-abroad program, I can assure you that you don'thave to worry about it at all. The staff in Mexico is very accommodatingas far as schoolwork and housing. They found me a family who lived withinwalking distance from the school. Also, the area where the school islocated is very quiet and in a nice neighborhood. After two days ofwalking with my host mom back and forth between the school and the house,I was able to do it myself without any trouble. Since I was the onlystudent who lived in the house, I had a lot of opportunity to interactwith my host family, which really helped me improve my Spanish. Inaddition, the host family understood a lot of our needs. For example,they knew we are not accustomed to drinking the water there, so theyalways had purified water available. They also realized that I was theonly student in the family, so they had the other students who lived nextdoor come over for meals.

It was not very hard to find out what activities wereplanned for us. If you need to know what activities are going on in theschool, you can always ask your peers to help or you can ask thecoordinator. Also, once classes start, be sure to meet your fellowstudents because many times they will be the ones making plans forafter-school or weekend trips. There are also trips that the school canarrange for us as a group or as individuals.

Even though it was a very short program, I managed totake about three trips with the school and with other students. One thingto keep in mind if you want to do a trip on your own is to ask if thereare other students who are interested in doing the trip with you. It is alot of fun when you are doing the trip with a group of people and mostimportantly you will not get lost. That is why it is important to meetother students. Sometimes you have to ask around to find out about someof the activities that others are interested in.

One of the trips that we took was included in theprogram. They had someone from the school go with us as our tour guide. He was really good at explaining everything and he always made sure I gotto feel the texture of some of the buildings or shapes. After we splitinto different groups, I just joined whomever I wished depending on what Iwanted to do. Although the pyramids were very hard to climb, I climbedthem as far as my body allowed me.

The second trip was a really short one. Some of thestudents planned to go to another pyramid for the New Year's Day, so Iwent along.

As a final trip, some of us went to a town calledBuenavista. Most of the students actually went to Acapulco, but some ofus just wanted to go to somewhere small and quiet. Therefore, we decidedto go to Buenavista. We got to do a lot of activities. For example, wesang camp songs, rode horses, made flowers and saw a demonstration ofleather working. The school helped arrange the housing for us.

I have to admit the sidewalks in Cuernavaca, Mexicowere not the easiest to walk on and the city was not the easiest to getaround, but there are many solutions. I reiterate it is very importantfor you to make some connections in the school and go out with otherstudents. And if there are times you need to go somewhere by yourself,you can either take a taxi or take a bus. I would highly recommend takinga taxi simply because the bus system in Cuernavaca is not the same as inthe Twin Cities. For example, they don't have our system of sounding abuzzer to tell the bus driver that you need to get off. You simply standup and get off the bus since the bus door is always open (!).

One thing I would encourage blind students to do is togo out into the community. I regret that I didn't do that very muchbecause of the heavy workload and lack of time. After participating inthis program, the fears that resided in me had faded away. Right now, Iplan to do a semester program somewhere in South America. In retrospect,I realize that in three weeks I really did start speaking more fluentlybut before I knew it, it was time for me to return to the U.S. Given mypositive experiences, I would strongly encourage all disabled students toparticipate in a study abroad program. Having just found out that I wasthe first blind student who had done this program, all I can say is thatif I can do it, you can do it too! I hope that the experiences I haverelated to you will serve as a model for all blind students and forstudents with other disabilities as well.

Report of the SemiannualConvention
By Judy Sanders, Secretary

Federationists from throughout Minnesota gathered atthe Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New Ulm for the semiannual conventionof the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on April 17, 2004. Over sixty enthusiastic participants were present for the one-dayconvention.

President Joyce Scanlan called the convention to orderand introduced Charlene Childrey, president of our Riverbend Chapter forwords of welcome and announcements. Energetic singing of NFB songs led byJennifer Dunnam followed.

"The Roller Coaster Rolls On" was presented byPresident Scanlan and was her presidential report to the members. Shereviewed the process that was used to select a new director for StateServices for the Blind (SSB.) Four people were found qualified andinterviewed for the position. It is interesting to note that all thecandidates are members of the NFB. The two finalists were Chuk Hamiltonand Fred Wurtzel. Consumer groups were allowed to submit questions forthe final round of interviews; each organization could have an observer inthe interviews but only the interviewers could ask the questions. Theywere: Bonnie Elsey, assistant commissioner in the Department ofEmployment and Economic Development (DEED); Dennis Yecke,deputy commissioner of DEED, Rod Haworth, chair and WallyHinz, vice chair of the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind; and HowardGlad, director of rehabilitation services in DEED. ChukHamilton was named as the new director. (Note: Applicants for theposition were deemed qualified by the Department of Employee Relations.)

In February, around fifteen Minnesotans traveled toWashington to participate in the NFB's Washington seminar. The delegationvisited the entire Minnesota Congressional delegation except for SenatorMark Dayton. Unfortunately, while we were in Washington the Senate officebuildings were closed because of a terrorist scare. (See the April issueof THE BRAILLE MONITOR for a detailed description of our legislativeissues.)

Our Day at the Capitol emphasized visits tolegislators serving on committees that work on issues of interest to us. Those dealing with policy and budget for SSB were of primary interest. Wealso shared information regarding the Academy for the Blind in Faribaultand issues surrounding HAVA (The Help America Vote Act.) RepresentativeBob Gunther, chair of the Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee,placed a rider on DEED's budget requiring that any cuts beingmade in that department could not come from SSB. (Note: this rider wasin the House version only; no budget was passed by the end of thesession.) We introduced the idea of creating a Department for the Blind,combining all agencies for the blind in this state. (See resolutionbelow.)

Over the past six months, Joyce has traveledextensively throughout the state to various chapter meetings. Now thatshe is retired from BLIND (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions), Inc.,she plans to set membership recruitment and public relations as her toppriorities.

NFB members were active in helping to bring aboutawareness of the importance of our mass transit system during the MetroTransit bus strike.

The NFB of Minnesota is one of the founding members ofthe Community Solutions Fund. It has recently added eight new membershoping to bring in more money for everyone.

Sheila Koenig is chairing this year's scholarshipcommittee. The scholarship is worth $1,000 and will be presented at ourfall convention. That convention will be in St. Cloud and President MarcMaurer has put it tentatively on his calendar.

"Proposed Plan From the New Director" allowed us tohear from Chuk Hamilton, the new SSB director. He introduced himself tous by telling us of his background and long career at SSB. He has workedin all facets of the agency. One of his top priorities is to reinstitutesome form of adjustment-to-blindness training for staff that worksdirectly with customers--particularly counselors and BEP personnel. Hehas issued a draft proposal to consumer groups and the RehabilitationCouncil for critiquing. He wants the agency to work under a philosophythat has no limits for what blind people can accomplish. The four-weekstaff training will be geared to bring that expectation about. Thetraining will be conducted under blindfold and will be divided between twoof the adjustment centers.

NFB-Newsline(R) has been renewed for anotheryear. It is funded by the Minnesota Department of Education and theadministrative duties of it are handled by SSB with help from the Libraryfor the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Standards have been developed for assistive-technologytrainers. Trainers will become certified when they pass a test and willnot be given any students until they have done so.

Mr. Hamilton closed his report by publiclyacknowledging and thanking the NFB for its work at the legislature to getstate funds restored to SSB's budget. There seemed to be the feeling thata new, more positive era was beginning at SSB.

During lunch, our new public relations and outreachcommittee met to begin formulating plans. Charlene Childrey and herRiverbend Chapter crew showed great efficiency in feeding the hungryhordes.

A very proud and persistent mother presented "Throughthe Eye of the Needle". Carrie Gilmer has a blind son who is in juniorhigh and learning lots of new things. He has been a part of the buddyprogram at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions for many years and haslearned that it is not his limited vision that will make him successful. Carrie tells Jordan's story of dealing with teachers who do not understandabout alternatives to sight and that sometimes they are more effectivethan limited vision.

"Changes at the Academy for the Blind: What ActionMust We Take?" was an item presented by Janice Duffy, who serves as chairof the Site Council for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB),that brought us up to date on administrative changes that are occurring atthe school. The Site Council advises the Governance Board in developingpolicies for both the school for the deaf and MSAB. Unfortunately, thegovernance board worked quietly behind the scenes to appoint LindaMitchell, superintendent of the school for the deaf, as director of MSAB. It would appear that this position will take the place of the principaland there will be one superintendent for both schools. This does not bodewell for blind children who attend that school. It gives us one morereason to support a Department for the Blind in Minnesota.

Charlene Childrey introduced Al Goblisch who talkedabout becoming blind after age fifty and his determination to continuereading. He went to the New Ulm public library where he learned aboutalternatives to regular print and was talked into learning about howpeople with limited vision can use computers. It was helpful that the NewUlm librarian has become an active member of the NFB. Al never used acomputer when he could see but now he finds it quite useful. Charleneemphasized the importance of reaching out to seniors; NFB's name needs tobe out in our communities. We must do follow-through when we learn ofblind people in our neighborhoods. Through BLIND, Charleneteaches classes for seniors in southern Minnesota sponsored by SSB. Oneof her graduates built his own fence.

Charlene Childrey brought us up to date on plans forthe next move-a-thon on September 18th. It will follow the same route aslast year. Door prizes can be earned according to how much money oneraises. Judy Sanders reviewed the levels of corporate sponsorship that weare seeking. It is as follows: Donations of $100-$249, walker level,will be mentioned in the Minnesota Bulletin; $250-$499,jogger level, will be listed on our web site; $500-$999, cyclist level,will be mentioned on PSA's; and $1,000 and above, mover/shaker level, willget signage posted on the route the day of the move-a-thon. Those at thetop levels will have the benefits of the levels that are lower.

Judy Sanders filled in details of our year at thelegislature with matters that had not previously been mentioned. Inparticular, she reported on passage of a bill allowing dog-guide owners toreceive restitution for harm done to their dog guides by other animals. The restitution could be sought from the animal's owners. This law usesthe term "service animal" which has been defined to include dog guides.

She also reported on the status of the Help AmericaVote Act (HAVA). We are working closely with the Secretary of State'soffice and other representatives of the disability community.

Tom Scanlan's treasurer's report shows that, mainlybecause of bequests, we were in the black for 2003-04. He warned us thatwe couldn't always count on bequests.

Joyce Scanlan encouraged us to all participate in thePAC (Preauthorized Check Plan). By having an automatic withdrawal takenfrom our bank account each month, we can support our national treasurywithout even thinking about it. (If you want to know more, contact Joycefor a PAC card or more information.)

We elected Joyce Scanlan as our delegate to thenational convention and Jennifer Dunnam as our alternate.

Eric Smith and Judy Sanders explained the JacobustenBroek fund and how we traditionally make pledges to it to be paid bythe end of the year. This is the fund that owns the National Center forthe Blind in Baltimore, Maryland that houses our national office andinstitute. A motion was made, seconded and passed unanimously authorizingthe NFB of Minnesota to match the pledges made by individual members. Thetotal amount of pledges was $2,095.

Jennifer Dunnam gave "Report from the InternationalCouncil on English Braille (ICEB)." They have approved the new UnifiedEnglish Braille Code but the verdict is still out in the United States. The NFB, through resolutions passed in 2002, supported minor changes inthe Braille code but not the drastic reform proposed by the ICEB.

Charlene Childrey introduced Representative BradFinstad (R-New Ulm). Representative Finstad expressed appreciation forour grassroots efforts in defining our needs at the legislature. Heappreciated the fact that we are all volunteers and speaking forourselves.

Shawn Mayo moderated a panel of students fromBLIND, Inc. The first to speakwas Kotumu Kamara who told us how appreciative she is of being a part ofan organization of the blind. In her native West Africa, suchindependence as she is learning here was not possible. She hopes to visither country and bring a message of hope to blind people there.

When Charlie Dorff first began his training, he wasmortified to be seen with a long, white cane. He received very strictinstructions from Shawn that he must go home with his cane; but when heleft the Center each day he hid the cane by wrapping it in trash bags. Heis now a proud cane user to the point that during the metro area busstrike he walked three miles to the Center--his cane leading the way. Heno longer has to cover up his blindness.

As a child, Brandon Ball scraped by in his everydaylife. It was when he met Jan Bailey, his SSB counselor and aFederationist, that he realized he was missing something--hope. He nowknows that he has a great deal of control about his future and, if hisspeaking manner is any indication, he will have a successful and happyone.

Shawn closed with numerous announcements about severalactivities coming up at BLIND,Inc. including a yard sale and a benefit performance by DavidCarter. David is a graduate of the program and Associate Professor ofMusic at St. Olaf College in Northfield. He has formed a chamberorchestra for the evening and all proceeds go to BLIND.

Tom Scanlan, editor of the MinnesotaBulletin, made a plea for us to use our creative juices and submitarticles for publication. He noted that we could be nationally publishedbecause Barbara Pierce, editor of the Braille Monitor, oftenlooks to our publication for material.

Plans for attending the national convention in Atlantawere discussed. Airfares are fluctuating and hotel rooms are going fast. A brainstorming session took place to gather ideas of what we might sellat our booth in the exhibit hall. A Minnesota theme was definitely inorder. Joyce would take all our ideas and make a decision.

Amy Baron and Trudy Barrett ably distributed doorprizes throughout the day. Even those of us who did not win enjoyed thefun.

Our convention closed on a note of optimism and a highlevel of energy to continue our hard work. We are already looking forwardto St. Cloud in the fall.

RESOLUTION S04-01

WHEREAS, the services required by blindpeople, such as transcription of Braille books and instruction in canetravel, are unique and specific to blindness and are not applicable toother sectors of the population; and

WHEREAS, there exist in Minnesota fourseparate units within state government that provide services to the blind:the Minnesota Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, theResource Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Minnesota StateAcademy for the Blind, and State Services for the Blind; and

WHEREAS, although these entities offerprograms and services which are closely related, they are located indifferent governmental departments with a variety of responsibilities; and

WHEREAS, the resources available to someof these entities have been tied more closely to the missions of thegovernment departments from which they are administered than to the needsof the blind Minnesotans they are set up to serve; and

WHEREAS, such a fragmented arrangementnot only causes confusion for potential users of services, but alsoresults in some vital services falling through the cracks if such servicesdo not fit neatly with the larger purposes of the umbrella departments;and

WHEREAS, blind Minnesotans of all ageswould benefit from an easily identifiable and seamless service deliverysystem that capitalizes on greater administrative expertise and increasedgovernmental efficiency; now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federationof the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this seventeenth day ofApril, 2004, in the city of New Ulm, that this organization work towardpassage of legislation bringing all governmental units that provideservices to blind citizens in Minnesota into a single department at thehighest level of government possible.

Convention Alert!

Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keepthese in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Conventionwill be held October 22-24 in St. Cloud. Members will receive a letterwith details about a month before the convention.

The Semiannual NFB of MinnesotaConvention will be held in March or April 2005 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before theconvention.

The National NFB Convention will be heldat the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky from July 2 through July8, 2005. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business. Itis a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in theworld. The full convention bulletin will be in theBrailleMonitor.

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